The Arctic probably is the fastest warming region on this planet. It never was as apparent as this winter. Several heat waves had struck the High Arctic and temperatures rose up to 5°C above the 30-year average. This and the fact that less sea ice had been formed last year as well had led to a new record low of Arctic sea ice extent in winter. Only 14.4 million square meters of the Arctic Ocean had been covered with sea ice. The unusual warming period als has led to strange weather phenomenas on the entire northern hemisphere this winter.
Red knots are an amazing bird species that migrate more than 5’000 km each season. From their breeding grounds on the Taimyr Peninsula in Russian Siberia they fly down south as far as Mauretania and even Australia and New Zealand. Due to the warming of the Arctic, the birds are becoming smaller. A new study now shows that the price for this shrinkage is not due until they arrive at their winter homes in the south.
Antarctica holds many mysteries but a new one seems to have been revealed recently. Another large lake is hiding under its ice – second only to Lake Vostok in size. Today 370 subglacial lakes are known and they are of great interest because of the possibility that they could harbour unique life forms that may have existed in isolation, locked under ice for millions of years.
Four weeks of field research in the perpetual dark of an Antarctic winter in -50°C temperatures is not most people's idea of a good time. But for the Antarctic researcher Professor Ian Hawes, it will represent the pinnacle of a career visiting the ice almost every year since 1978. In a world first, five New Zealand scientists are planning to carry out research in the middle of the Antarctic winter. The project has attracted the attention of NASA, which is keen to learn lessons it could apply to a manned trip to Mars.
Just 40 years ago, on April 21 1976, six researchers and technicians together with a group of international colleagues celebrated the inauguration of the first German permanent Antarctic station near the Russian Nowolasarewskaja-Station in Queen Maud Land, East Antarctica. The station itself belonged to the Academy of Science of the former GDR (German Democratic Republic or East Germany), but the logistics was coordinated and organized together with the Sowjet Antarctic expeditions. The station was named “Georg Forster” after the German scientist who had accompanied James Cook and had stepped onto South Georgia soil on January 17 1775.
The inaccessibility of the Poles always challenged ambitious men of the early 20th century to risky expeditions. With the dawn of airplanes at the same time, it only was a matter of time until some daredevil would use the new technology for exploration purposes.
More than a century ago explorers went to Antarctica for their king and country. But national interests were put on ice when the Antarctic treaty defined Antarctica as a scientific sanctuary. Today countries again try to assert greater influence on the continent for the days when the treaty expires and for the strategic and commercial opportunities that exist right now. The Australia Antarctic Division, which oversees Australia's strategic, scientific, environmental and economic interests in the region, has suffered a series of budget cuts in recent years. However, this month it was announced that the Australian government will be investing $2.167 billion over the next ten years to enhance Australia’s Antarctic logistics and science capabilities including the construction of a brand new icebreaker.
Tourism in Antarctica has been on a rise more or less since it started in the late 1960s. Even small drops in number of visitors due to economic crisis were only temporarily. In order to ensure a environmental friendly and sustainable tourism, IAATO had been formed 25 years ago. This year the association will celebrate its 25th anniversary at its annual meeting. Simultaneously, it has released the latest figures on Antarctic tourism.
The receding sea ice of the Arctic Ocean opens new possibilities for exploitation of natural resources. Not only fossil fuels but also fisheries stands very high up on the agenda of Arctic nations. However, no proper data on fish stocks exist for the central Arctic Ocean. Arctic nations now have agreed to halt all fisheries themselves until more and better data will be available. They are also discuss now an international ban on fisheries in the central Arctic Ocean.
The number of cruise ships visiting the Arctic has seen a sharp increase over the last few years. More and more vessels make their way into the Arctic to experience the magic of the North. This, however, also increases the possibilities of accidents as not all vessels are suitable to navigate the Arctic Ocean. Thus, the AECO (Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators) organized a meeting with Search & Rescue Service providers in Reykjavik in April to discuss possible solutions.
Blue whales are the largest animals that have ever lived on Earth. During the first half of the 20th century, this iconic species suffered heavy losses in the Antarctic waters due to whaling. Since then, numbers have been slowly rising but it is unclear how many blue whales still roam the Southern Ocean. An Australian research team has now presented new genetic data and was able to identify three genetically distinct populations of these critically endangered giants.